What is driving innovation in food products?

What is driving innovation in food products?


The customer is king: an age-old mantra that is particularly true in highly competitive global industries such as F&B. Mark Napier, VP of Dubai World Trade Centre, addresses the driving forces behind food product innovation and the role consumers have in shaping these decisions.

In recent years, a convergence of trends in the MENA region and beyond has shaped consumer demand in the F&B manufacturing sector. The industry emphasizes health and wellness, heightened ethical and environmental concerns in food production and a desire for traceability. Consequently, for the industry to continue to grow and thrive, food manufacturers must react to shifting consumer demand. Thus, they need to constantly innovate sourcing, ingredients, production processes and more.

Some of the latest innovations in the F&B manufacturing industry include:

Plant-based products

Growing ethical and ecological concerns drive demand for plant-based alternatives in response to long-standing issues with meat production. Indeed, the plant-based meat and dairy market in the Middle East and Africa is expected to grow from USD 283.97 million in 2023 to USD 387.97 million by 2028. With a CAGR of 6.44 percent over the forecast period (2023-2028). Consequently, food manufacturers are responding by offering a wide range of innovative and nutritious plant-based products. Among the latest plant-based innovations are dairy alternatives. To name a few, chickpea and potato milk, yogurts made from butterbeans, oat-based soft-serve ice cream and more. For those still craving the taste and texture of meat, lab-cultivated meat, poultry and seafood are also on the rise.

Carbon footprint

Environmental concerns, encompassing food miles and carbon emissions, extend to the entire food production cycle and not just meat and fish. The quest for food security and system resilience propels a push for localized food production, reducing the distance between production and consumption. One way this has manifested itself in the MENA region is the innovation of vertical farming. Consequently, the high yield per square meter and lower water use have made vertical farming suitable for the region. The growth in vertical farming has not gone unnoticed by regional governments either. Agri-tech takes center stage as a key growth sector in diversifying economies, particularly in oil-dependent markets seeking innovation and diversification.

Advanced technologies

Investment in advanced technologies can help address food security challenges across the entire production value chain. For example, the UAE launched a series of initiatives to drive smart manufacturing in the country. The World Economic Forum underscores the potential of smart manufacturing: a 20 percent reduction in production costs and a 25 percent efficiency boost.

Product sourcing

Global innovation in food production is driven by an expanding focus on health, wellness, nutritional value, processing, and sourcing scrutiny. Moderating caffeine and alcohol intake are key aspects of the trend towards healthier eating. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that F&B manufacturers are developing coffee substitutes, using mushroom, chicory and dandelion root instead of coffee beans. In addition, low- and no-alcohol drinks have been developed to tap into growing consumer demand.


According to the latest estimates, most of the solid waste generated around the world is packaging waste. Consequently, the food industry accounts for a significant proportion of this. Furthermore, of the yearly 78 million metric tons of plastic packaging produced around the world, only 14 percent is recycled.  Most of the plastic is made using non-renewable sources and will ultimately end up in landfill. To address this, manufacturers are innovating with more eco-friendly, plant-based packaging using mushrooms, fruit, starches and reclaimed waste.

Mark Napier,
VP of Dubai World Trade Centre

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